China recently tested a ground-based launcher for deploying a series of miniature drones that can act as a loitering swarm of munitions and impact targets in a coordinated attack.
Video of the drone launcher, developed by the state-operated China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), was shared to YouTube on Tuesday. According to Forbes, the launcher was tested in September and is configured to launch 48 separate drones.
The drones, launched from a modified Chinese Dongfeng Mengshi light tactical vehicle, fire from missile-like tubes before a set of blade-like wings pop open and an electric-powered propeller allows the drone to fly and maneuver. The drones appear to be a variant of the CH-901, a loitering munition, which Forbes said can fly at a cruise speed of between 40 and 75 mph for up to two hours.
In the video, the drones can also be seen being dropped from a helicopter in a tube that opens up to allow the drone’s wings to spring open.
The video shows several of the drones flying in a formation, appearing to show swarming technology demonstrating their ability to operate in tightly packed groups without running into each other.
According to Forbes, the drones are intended to be armed with high-explosive warheads and run themselves into enemy targets, with the potential to damage or destroy tanks and other armored vehicles. The video shows an operator for the drones, selecting a target before one of the drones hones in on the target and runs into it.
Forbes reported swarming software for a swarm drone weapon also aims to coordinate the drones in their attacks to ensure they can attack a series of targets rather than all prioritizing the same target. Forbes reported the Chinese swarm drone system likely relies on special chip, announced by CETC last year, which claims to have a “multifunction processing unit for swarm intelligence.” CETC claimed the technology includes systems for flight control, mission planning, intelligent decision-making, networking between drones, and the ability to recognize targets and other objects.
China’s drone swarm weapon appears similar to the U.S. Navy’s Low-Cost UAV Swarm Technology (LOCUST) system, which has been in development with Raytheon since 2015 and which the Office of Naval Research demonstrated in a May 2016 test video.
The LOCUST system uses a similar missile-tube style launch method, with the wings of launched drones popping out as they leave the tube and an electric-powered propeller to allow the drones to fly and maneuver in a swarm.
The U.S. has also seen the development of Intel’s Movidius AI processor, which has been used to control smart drones.
China’s latest showcase of its drone technology comes amid increased tensions between the U.S. and China. China has warned the U.S. against forging ties with Taiwan and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, in a recent address to Chinese troops, called on military units to “put all (their) minds and energy on preparing for war.”